Reciprocals reciprocalize themselves but reflexives reflexivize each other

Itamar Kastner (NYU)


The verbal system of Modern Hebrew consists of seven distinct verbal "templates": specific morphophonological patterns of affixes and vowels which, on combining with a lexical "root" made up of consonants, result in verbal forms. This kind of non-concatenative morphology obscures the hierarchical arrangement of whichever syntactic, semantic and phonological primitives are involved; the affixes are all fused and superimposed one atop another, in a manner of speaking.

This talk focuses on the hitXaYeZ template (where X-Y-Z are the root consonants), the only one of the seven templates in which reflexive and reciprocal verbs can appear (save for two intriguing counterexamples, which I will discuss as well). The question is what is special about the morphosemantic structure of this template and how this structure interacts with the root. The overall goal is to arrive at a compositional semantics for complex verbal forms in Hebrew.

For example, the root √rxc has to do with washing; in the hitXaYeZ template, hitraxec means 'showered' or 'bathed' ("washed oneself"). This is a reflexive interpretation. But for the "writing"-related root √ktv, hitkatev does not mean 'wrote himself'. Instead, a reciprocal verb arises, 'corresponded with'. On the one hand, the lexical semantic content of the root constrains the argument structure of the resulting verb. On the other hand, there must be something special about the hitXaYeZ template itself since it is the only one of the seven that derives reflexives and reciprocals.

I will discuss what this tension can tell us about the grammar of reflexivity, reciprocality and agentivity crosslinguistically. Time permitting, I will also review a recent approach to the morphosemantics of reflexives in Greek (Spathas et al 2015) and discuss whether it is applicable to the case at hand.